My name is Hunter Silvan. I am nineteen and had just finished burying the last of my family. We have lived here at the base of the northern mountains for ten generations. I have grown up learning to fight, track and hunt, my mother had made sure I could read and write as well. Life around the only pass out of the north was always hard. Besides the King’s Keep filled with soldiers, there were constant raids by Dark elves, orcs or goblins, there were occasionally trolls or long toothed lions.
I straightened and looked across the fields in the valley below to see a large city. This was where I had been told the mercenary companies wintered. I was looking for work as a scout and started down the road pulling the pack horse with everything I owned.
I carried my longbow, it was made from golden Cyprus and had taken me a year to make. On my right thigh was a long slightly curved knife, across my chest hilt down was another. My moccasins were made from troll hide. I nodded to the guards at the city gate, “I am looking for the mercenary companies.”
An older one smiled but the younger one snorted and started to say something. The old one put his hand on the younger’s shoulder, “go around to the east and you will find several camps. Try Trevor Macbane’s company.”
I nodded and turned to head around the city wall. Behind me I heard the old soldier, “he is from King’s Pass.”
I smiled but kept going and finally came to the camps. Men seemed to be laying around and doing nothing at the first couple of camps. I frowned and past them by before stopping beside another. I nodded to a large man sharping a sword, “I am looking for Trevor Macbane’s company.”
He glanced up and froze before turning to gesture, “two camps down and in one.”
I nodded as I pulled on the lead rope, “Thank you.”
He smiled, “anytime.”
When I reached the camp it almost seemed empty. A few men were practicing with bows and another was fletching arrows. I headed towards the one fletching the arrows and he glanced at me. He looked startled and turned, “TREVOR!”
I looked at him and then at the large tent as a short fit looking man came out. He hesitated and then smiled as he walked towards me. I looked at the twin long knives that were like mine and then into his face. He stopped and looked me up and down, “a Silvan.”
I nodded, “the last.”
He frowned and shook his head, “that is to bad, your family were the best.”
I nodded and he glanced at my horse, “Looking for work?”
I nodded again and he grinned and turned, “COMPANY!”
I looked around as men began appearing from tents. They came to stand looking at me and Trevor gestured, “leave the horse.”
I turned to touch the horses neck and whisper a command. I released the rope and turned to Trevor. He smiled and nodded before looking at the distant target, “need me to move it back?”
I glanced at it and nodded, “another fifty paces.”
The company murmured as three men trotted to the target and pulled it back. When they moved away I looked at Trevor, “Three?”
He nodded and I pulled one arrow from the quiver at my waist. I fitted it to the bow string and in one motion brought the bow up, pulled the string back and released it. I did not wait and pulled another arrow and it went speeding after the first and then a third followed the other two. I looked at Trevor as he laughed and looked at the company, “that is why men from King’s pass are the best.”
He held out his hand for my bow and I hesitated before handing it to him. He looked it over carefully before sighing and handing it back, “very nice.”
He looked at my horse with the long leather case, “the other?”
I glanced back, “Black Cyprus, my father’s.”
He nodded, “I pay a gold crown every month.”
I smiled, “when do we leave?”
Trevor grinned, “Tomorrow.”
He looked around, “Drake, Dillon and Thomas, you are scouting with Silvan.”
I looked at the three men that had answered him and then at him, “You can call me Hunter.”
Everyone went quiet and he looked at me closely, “Hunter was the one that killed two trolls at the Keep gates last winter.”
I smiled slightly, “They were not my first.”
He looked me over again and then laughed as he turned away, “Peter, find him a tent.”
I followed Peter, a blonde haired man with a crossed short swords. I glanced at the folded tent before shaking my head, “I will use my own.”
He nodded, “Cook’s wagon is behind...”
I smiled, “the commander’s tent.”
He looked at me and I touched my nose, he grinned and turned away. I unloaded my horse and set everything beside my ground cloth. I led the horse across to the picket line and tied it before slipping a feed bag on. I went back to my things and sat for a minute before sighing and opening a long pack. I began putting things together and ignored the looks I was getting.
When I finished, I stood in front of it and picked up one of the long, straight branches I had picked up as I walked. I put it in the lathe and adjusted it before using the foot peddle and pulling out a chisel. I kept ignoring the other men as they gathered around and continued to work the branch down to a smooth arrow shaft. I pulled it out and wiped it off as I checked it and then I slipped it into the pack with the other arrow shafts. Trevor cleared his throat, “You make your own arrows?”
I glanced at him before pulling an arrow from my quiver and handing it to him. He took it and smiled as he closed his eyes and let his hand feel the arrow. He opened his eyes and handed the arrow back, “That I was never taught.”
I glanced at the other men, “My great, great grandfather got the lathe from a dwarf and was taught how to use it by an elf.”
They all nodded and I turned back to reach for another branch, “You have to use seasoned branches as straight as you can find them. I turn them a little narrower than most like, but they tend to fly faster and straighter.”
I glanced around as I started shaving the branch down, “To narrow and they brake or shatter when they hit.”
They were nodding as I turned back to what I was doing, “I use snares to catch birds or use a sling. I trim the quills so they are even and fly the same each time.”
I nodded to my pack, “I also mix different ores to get a lighter and stronger tip.”
I did ten before stopping, Trevor had broke the men up but a few had still watched. A clanging came from behind Trevor’s tent and everyone stood and started walking. A back haired man grinned as he walked by, “that is to let us deaf, dumb idiots know it is time to eat.”
I smiled and followed him to the cook’s wagon. After dinner I put the lathe away and stretched and began the exercises I was taught as a very young boy. When Trevor slipped into the martial dance I moved with his flowing movements. He was my mirror and I was his. When he stepped back and away, I moved into a different pattern, one only my family practiced.
When I stopped and began to stretch slowly Trevor bowed, “thank you, it has been many years since I have had someone to practice with.”
I nodded as I undressed and sat, letting my eyes close as my other senses reached out around me. When I opened my eyes Trevor was sitting across from me, “the other exercises I did not know or what you were just doing.”
I smiled, “The other was what my family practice and has practiced for ten generations. As for what I was just doing, I was... listening and feeling what is around us.”
He nodded before standing, “Well thank you again. Meet me in the morning so I can show you where I want you to scout.”
I nodded and stood to dress now that I was cooler. I pulled out the large glassy red rock I had packed away and then the slim case with my gem carving tools. All of the top of the rock looked like tiny chain mesh. I glanced around as I sat and then I concentrated on what I was doing. It was tiny movements that carved links in the mesh. When it began to get dark I stopped and put everything away.
I went to check my horse and found someone had removed the feed bag and tied it beside the lead rope. A pile of green grass was by his head and he was eating. I lay back on my ground cloth and stared at the stars as they appeared. They sounds of hundreds of men around me was something I was not used to. The shadow that slipped into camp in the middle of the night had me coming to my feet.
I moved through the shadows silently. I moved in front of the man like shape before it could enter Trevor’s tent, “your people are not welcome here.”
The dark elf hesitated, “this is not your concern Silvan man.”
I smiled, “I am pledged to him.”
The elf shifted, “it is private.”
I turned slightly when Trevor slipped out beside me. He nodded to the elf, “brother.”
I turned to look at him but the elf ignored me, “others will be coming for you. Your mother took her trip with my father.”
Trevor looked down, “they were always happy together.”
The elf nodded and straightened, “I am going to our brothers now.”
I looked at him sharply, “they will kill you on sight.”
He bowed his head, “perhaps but I can no longer follow the dark path.”
I turned and looked into the night before reluctantly reaching for the stone chain necklace I was wearing. It was pale green with a small blue crystal. I held it out, “west of here a day is a peace stone. Place this on the stone and sit. Wait for your brothers and tell the one that comes that I said his debt is paid.”
The dark elf looked at me and then at the necklace before slowly taking it. I glanced at Trevor before walking back to my ground cloth. I lay back and relaxed as I looked at the stars and listened to the night. I was up early and packed. I saddled my horse and then loaded my saddle pack before going to the cook who had been up for a little while. I accepted two warm rolls filled with warm bacon and cheese.
I slipped into Trevor’s tent and nodded to the other men. Trevor used a small map table and began showing each of us where he wanted us to scout. After we were done I walked out and stretched before walking out of camp. Once I was clear of people I went to a slow trot. When I reached the clearing we were headed for I made a check before squatting beside a tree.
It was an hour before one of the others reached the clearing. Drake walked into the clearing calmly and glanced around smugly. I cleared my throat and he spun as he lifted his bow. I shook my head and he grinned, “how long have you been here?”
I shrugged, “Awhile, long enough to watch a small party of road thieves pass through.”
He frowned and looked around before walking to me and sitting beside me. We watched Dillon and Thomas move around the clearing before coming out a little later. Drake chuckled as Thomas said they were the first. They turned to see us before grinning. I stood, “I will be back.”
I slipped into the woods and began a slow walk around the outside of the clearing. I took a few birds with my sling before the woods around me became still. I shifted and listened carefully before suddenly moving and starting to run, “ORCS!”
Thick, slow moving black arrows past through where I had been and several more flew behind me as I ran. The roar and shouts as they began to chase me was one I had heard many times. I could see Drake, Dillon and Thomas with their bows ready as I ran out and spun. I was beside a large oak tree and started firing arrows as the small hunting party of orcs rushed towards us.
There were maybe twenty and then a dozen or less as I tossed my bow behind me and pulled my knives. I moved into the deadly dance, slipping a heavy scimitar away as I sliced an orcs stomach open. I cut another’s throat as I slid forward and spun to stab one in the neck and rip the knife out. I twisted to avoid another scimitar and reached in to slice its inner thigh open.
I stabbed into one’s arm and twisted as I moved past him and cut his throat. I spun, blocking another sword and taking the hand that held it. I jerked the screaming orc onto a lunging sword and moved past him to take an orc lifting a sword to swing at Drake and turned to stab another under an ear. I moved toward a last orc turning to run when Thomas put an arrow through its spine.
I straightened and looked around before kneeling to clean my knives. I ignored the dying orcs as Drake, Dillon and Thomas made sure they were dead. I went to pick up my bow and inspect it before turning and walking back into the woods. I made sure the ones hit by arrows were dead before pulling my arrows out. I checked them and removed the heads before snapping them.
I came back to the others as they pulled the bodies deeper into the woods. I helped and then we waited and the company finally began arriving. Trevor glanced around as he swung down, “It smells like blood and shit.”
Dillon chuckled, “We had a little dance with some orcs.”
Trevor looked around again, “Scouts?”
I shook my head, “A hunting party.”
He snorted, “Their nest is within a couple of days from here than.”
I nodded but Drake answered, “There were reports in the city off hunting parties.”
Trevor nodded, “I heard them.”
Thomas cleared his throat, “It should be okay if we post guards.”
That evening I took my time and plucking feathers and replaced the arrows I had used. I cleaned the old arrowheads and made a few more shafts before packing everything up. I was scouting the flank the next day but the only thing I saw was a lone bobcat. We came into the huge kingdom farmlands and scouting was not really needed.
The city of Black Rock was huge, with high stone walls and towers. Trevor had ridden ahead this morning but he was waiting at the gate when we got there. I was walking beside the cook wagon as we moved through the cobbled streets. I was trying not to stare at everything when we walked into a large square. We were moving past a large fountain with a pool around it when a young noble turned and threw a stone.
My reaction was automatic, my hand snapped the rock out of the air before it could hit the horse pulling the wagon, I spun and I threw it back. The noble yelled as it hit him and several of the other lad pulled swords. I moved away from the wagon after turning to toss my bow to the driver. I was crossing to the men as I pulled my knives. A loud voice cracked over the voices of the crowd, “STOP!”
The nobles froze and turned to look. I stopped and glanced at the man and smiled slightly. He was well dressed but short and very stocky. He smiled as he ignored the nobles, “I thought you were still up north Silvan.”
I bowed, “My father finally passed and your Duke sent notice we were no longer needed.”
He sighed as he stopped, “I think that was a mistake.”
He turned to the noble lads, “You are extremely lucky. This is Hunter Silvan and if he had wanted, you would have died here today. Now, go to the practice field and wait for me.”
I looked at him and he grinned when he turned back, “I get to teach these new lords.”
I shook my head and turned as Trevor walked towards us. I smiled, “Lord Devan, this is Trevor the commander of my company.”
Trevor smiled and bowed, “My lord, I have heard of you.”
Devon nodded before looking at me, “The Elves are gathering for a raid into the Trenadal.”
I glanced at Trevor who looked interested, “Why now? The deep woods has been quiet.”
Devon looked at Trevor, “Large parties of orcs, goblins and dark elves are raiding into the bordering farms.”
Trevor cleared his throat, “Does the king plan to send troops?”
Devon smiled, “Come see me tonight.”
He looked at me, “we had word the dark elves were sending a blood party for you.”
I grinned, “They did, I was north of the pass hunting a wounded long tooth. It found them when I found it.”
Devon laughed and shook his head, “and you probably just sat and waited before going to help the lion.”
I laughed and he sighed, “Fair well Silvan.”
I nodded and Trevor grinned, “This might save us a long march to Crow Peak.”
He turned and waved as he started for the front of the column. I walked back to the wagon and accepted my bow before starting to walk beside it. We set up camp outside the city walls. I started making more arrows, if there was going to be fighting I might need them. I slipped out of camp around noon and went back into the city until I found a blacksmith. I had to bargain sharply with him before he let me use his shop and his forge. I mixed fine shavings of different metals before putting it in the forge to melt.
The long silvery molds I used had been in my family a long time. They had been made for us by a family of dwarves that still owes us a debt. When I left the shop it was late in the afternoon, I stopped beside my ground tarp and looked at the darkening sky. I pulled my packs closer and pulled out the light, domed tent. Several springy wooden dowels slipped into sleeves before I tossed my ground tarp in and then my packs.
The other men had watched and grinned as they shook their heads. I covered the dome with its rain tarp which was just another light cloth. I went to eat before coming back to slip into my tent. Trevor had us there for three days as it rained and he talked to lord Devon and Duke Merral. The morning of the fourth day we packed up and headed west towards the Trenadal.
The Trenadal was ancient, it was a vast forest that few men venture into very far. We took turns scouting ahead and a week later came to the large Watcher’s Keep. An army of men and elves filled the area around the towering Keep. We set up camp on the forest side as Trevor went to speak with the other commanders.
I was using the lathe when the small group of elves stopped beside me. I smiled and continued what I was doing, “You look much better than last time Silver.”
Several laughed as the one in front grinned, “getting mauled by a long tooth tends to ruffle me.”
I glanced at him and beyond him to the former dark elf, “You got here quickly.”
The elf followed my look and nodded, “And I find myself further in your debt.”
I smiled as I went back to the shaft I was working on, “And here I thought I was giving you a chance to lessen it.”
He squatted behind me, “This is serious Hunter.”
I snorted, “Serious is facing a troll and forgetting your knife.”
He grinned, “I was fevered remember?”
I glanced at the other serious looking elves, “it was and will always be my life’s work to return balance. Your brothers follow a false path. If I can help one return to the right one, than I have done what I was meant to do.”
He nodded and put his hand on my shoulder, “perhaps but this time even our king will feel in your debt.”
I glanced at him and then at the others before nodding. I finally grinned, “You would not happen to know where a white ironwood tree is?”
He grinned, “still hoping to make the perfect bow?”
I shrugged and turned back to take the new arrow shaft off, “So your people are going to start raiding into the Trenadal?”
He nodded, “Our brothers and the other foul ones have caused enough chaos. We are going to try to restore the balance.”
I smiled as I set a new stick in the lathe, “Than we will see each other again and perhaps I can teach you the proper way to dance.”
He laughed as he stood, “I will look forward to it.”
I watched them leave before finishing and putting everything away. Trevor returned to the camp and called everyone. We would begin our scouting the next morning. It was barely dawn when I slipped into the forest. It took several minutes to learn the feel of the forest around me and then I started moving. When the forest went quiet I froze and slowly looked around.
It was almost mid day and I was close to a small stream. A few minutes later three dark elves appeared. They were moving down the stream and stopped barely a dozen paces away. One glanced around but did not look at me, “they come this way. Spread out and set traps to slow them.”
I lifted my bow and pulled the string back as they started to separate. I took one in the chest as he finally lifted his eyes to see me. Even as I released I was pulling another arrow out. I took the next elf as he spun at the first ones gasp. The last one was running towards me when I put an arrow through his throat. I moved forward to remove my arrows and take their weapons.
I glanced up the stream before moving to the side and following it. It was a half hour before I came to the small encampment. I watched for awhile before turning to slip away. I took a step around a bush and froze as a half elven maid stared at me in surprise. I moved quickly and grabbed her as I covered her mouth. I kept moving away from the encampment as I held the struggling maid.
Human women that are taken by dark elves are made into slaves. The children they bare, live only if they are female and they are made into slaves like their mother. When I was far enough away I pulled my hand off her mouth and hiss, “you are mine slave!”
She froze with wide eyes and looked down, “my master...”
I shook her and hissed, “I took you, you are mine!”
It was a minute before she nodded and I relaxed. I grabbed her hand, “come.”
I had no idea what I was going to do with her but I could not let her go. I moved quickly and was not surprised when she was able to keep up. I was back to where I had killed the three elves when a dozen elves and Trevor appeared. They looked at the girl but I ignored them as I moved to Trevor. I told him about the encampment and how far it was.
He grinned and glanced back, “we have a company of rangers following, that should be more than enough.”
I nodded and knelt as I pulled out a thin rabbit skin. I spread it out and started drawing the encampment as the elves came closer to watch and listen. When I finished men were coming into the tiny clearing. The elves spilt up to guide them as Trevor whispered to the Ranger commander as they walked. I glanced at the maid I had claimed and sighed as I pulled her to the side.
After the rangers passed, a double column of supplies started by. After that was the scouts supply train and I stepped in to walk beside my horse, I patted it and looked at the maid, “ours.”
She hesitated and then nodded. Trevor had been right, the rangers were more than enough. They were not in time to stop the dark elves from killing the slaves or their women and children. We set up camp a little ways from the fight. The rangers buried the dead and then began to celebrate. The scouts had our own camp and I set up my tent before heading back to the dark elf camp.
I found several of the silvery star knives like mine. I also found sleeping furs and the light green blankets the elves always used. When I got back to my tent more of the other scouts were back. They stared at the maid as I handed her the sleeping furs and blankets and nodded to the tent. I set up my lathe and started on a couple of shafts when she came out and knelt behind me.
I had her move up to watch what I was doing and she actually seemed interested. I turned a few shafts before pulling out heads and feathers. I looked at the curious girl and she was concentrating totally on what I was doing. When I finished I put everything away and pulled her up. I used belts I had found to position two knifes on her. She was trembling as I put the knives on and I knew it was because she had never been allowed to carry weapons.
I pulled her across to the cook who glanced from me to the girl before smiling. He gave me two plates, one heaped with extra food. I handed it to her and moved aside before squatting and eating. The girl looked at me as I touched her plate, “eat.”
She looked around half afraid before slowly doing as I told her. A minute later she was wolfing the food down. She even licked the wooden plate after all the food was gone. I took her plate and stood to return them to the cook who looked at the girl, “Let me know if she needs anything.”
I nodded and took her to where we had set up the trench for the jakes. After going to the bathroom I led her back to the tent. I looked inside the tent at the large comfortable looking bed. I frowned but knew better than to say anything. I nodded to the bed and pushed the girl, “Rest.”
She hesitated before stripping and climbing into the tent and the bed. I stripped before stretching and beginning my evening exercises. By the time I was done Trevor was waiting. He grinned as I used the rag he tossed to me. It was dark as he told me where he wanted me to scout the next day and how far to go. I slipped into the tent and the sleeping fur when he was done.
I knew the girl was awake from listening to her breathing. I relax as I listened to the night sounds and closed my eyes. I woke when the girl shifted closer and put her head on my shoulder. She slowly relaxed as I waited and finally relaxed as her breathing changed and she fell asleep. I woke to footsteps outside and glanced at the girl who was awake and trembling. I shifted, “time to get up.”
I moved out of the tent and looked around in the false dawn light. I looked at the girl, “pack up the bedding while I get my horse.”
She nodded and turned back to the tent. I glanced at one of the others as I stopped beside my horse. He nodded back to my tent, “she sleep?”
I shrugged, “A little. It will take her awhile to learn she is a person.”
He patted my shoulder, “you are not as cold as you want everyone to think.”
I watched him led his horse towards his tent before slipping the light pack saddle on. I led my horse back and started loading the packs. I carefully showed the girl how to take down the tent and pack it away before packing it onto the horse. I led her to the jakes and then to wash before going to the cook. Like before he filled her plate before putting food on mine. I pulled her aside and touched her plate, “eat.”
She nodded and looked around as she wolfed her food down. I ate and waited as she licked her plate and sighed. I smiled, “What are you called?”
She looked at me and then looked down, “Holly, master.”
I touched her hand, “I want you to lead our horse and follow the cook.”
She looked at me with wide eyes. I smiled, “Everything we have is on the horse. While you walk, look for straight dry branches like you saw me using to make arrow shafts.”
Holly nodded and I stood after taking her plate. I led her to the cook and gave him the empty plates, “This is Holly. She will lead my horse and follow you.”
He smiled, “You need anything lass, you just tell me.”
She looked down and nodded. I went to get my bow and left her with the horse before heading out. I slipped through the woods cautiously but my mind was on Holly. It was a couple of hours before I hesitated, I saw six Orcs squatting beside a dead deer. I could see signs that the deer had been dragged here and looked around. Beyond them was a wide opening and there was a reek of decay.
I carefully moved back and slipped away before moving quickly towards the column of rangers. I almost ran into the four orcs and only managed to drop my bow. I grabbed a clawed hand and twisted and turned to throw the orc into the others. It gave me time to pull my knives and slice ones throat as it lunged back at me. I slid to the side and stabbed a faint before spinning and taking the hand of another.
I back stepped and turned to stab through a reaching hand. I twisted and turned my wrist as I slid in to cut its throat. I turned and pushed the dead orc into the one coming to its feet before stepping forward again to kill the orc holding its arm and screaming. It died as I shoved a knife through his eye and moved to the last one struggling under the dead orc. I stabbed it through the throat and ripped my knife out before stepping back and looking around.
I knelt to clean my knives before grabbing my bow and starting back towards the rangers. I met Trevor and another scout several minutes later and slowed to a walk, “we have a small Orc nest.”
Trevor grinned and turned to wait for the rangers to catch up, “we have a company of Duke Merral’s men and another of elves that joined us.”
It was a little later that I knelt with the three company commanders and told them where the nest was. I led the way back and stopped short as the rangers spread out and slipped forward with elves following. I kept going and used my bow with Trevor and the other scout to kill the orcs guarding the nest entrance. The Duke’s men surged forward as torches burst into flames.
Trevor glanced at me, “head west. There should be a wider stream, wait there for us.”
I glanced around before nodding and walking away as the soldiers headed down into the hole in the ground. I knew there would be trouble when I saw the water. I could smell the troll that should not be here. I looked around carefully and reached up to hang my bow on a branch. I slipped my quiver off and let it fall before following the smell.
I had barely gone a dozen feet before it roared and charged. I slid forward and behind a tree and the huge troll slammed into it. I spun around the tree pulling my knives and jumped and stabbed. The troll bellowed as they both went into its eyes and I yanked them out and fell back. I landed on my feet and moved around the staggering beast.
I knelt when I was behind it and slashed out quickly to hamstring its right leg. My knife was not steel or I would not have had a chance. It barely cut into the beast but it went deep enough and it bellowed and fell as I rolled away. I moved forward again as it rolled around on the ground and watched for my chance. I moved quickly when it came and stabbed down and through the ear hole to bury my knife.
I slid back and watched as it convulsed and died. I finally moved forward and pulled my knife out. I cleaned them before going back to get my bow and quiver. I was squatting beside the wide stream when Trevor and the rangers arrived. He turned as another scout came in looking stunned, “what?”
The scout looked at me, “there is a dead troll.”
Trevor looked at me before walking back where the scout had come from. I stood and headed towards the columns coming out of the forest. I found our people and fell in beside Holly as she walked. She looked at me with blood on me and looked down. The scouts turned north and set up camp beside the stream. I helped Holly set up the tent before stripping and walking into the stream to wash.
When I was clean I dressed in clean clothes before looking at Holly. I glanced around before taking her hand and leading her out of camp and up the stream. I found a sheltered bend and handed scented soap to her, “wash.”
She was looking down but nodded. I kept watch as she undressed and waded into the water. She was almost done when an elf stepped out from behind a tree. He smiled as he walked to me and glanced around before handing me a long shirt. I smiled, “thank you.”
He glanced at Holly, “we collected a few things and the Rangers and the Duke’s soldiers pitched in. I had them leave it at your tent.”
He hesitated, “Silver told us you had killed trolls before but... thank you.”
He turned to walk away and I gestured to Holly. She had been squatting in the stream to hide herself and walked out. I gave her the rag I had brought and she dried off. I handed her the soft green elven shirt and she slipped it on. Back in camp there was a huge pile of things by our tent. I gestured to it as I moved to unpack my lathe, “that is for you. See if you can make a skirt or pants.”
She moved to the pile and before a minute was up was lost in the discovery of new things. I glanced back and smiled before stopping the lathe, “come here and bring the brush.”
She looked down and did as I told her. I turned her and had her sit as I began to brush and untangle her long hair. A few minutes later she sighed and I looked at her before continuing, “we try to wash as often as we can. I will show you how to braid your hair to kept it out of your way.”
She nodded and I touched her cheek, “I want you to start exercising with me too. You need to learn how to fight.”
She looked at me quickly as I went back to brushing her hair, “I will make you a lighter bow so you can learn that too.”
When the cook sounded the dinner bell I was back to working on my lathe. Holly’s hair was braided and she stood, “I will bring.”
I looked at her before nodding, “thank you.”
Trevor followed her back and waited as she knelt and handed me a plate. I smiled and reached out to exchange mine for hers since it held less. I glanced at Trevor as he squatted down, “where do I scout tomorrow?”
He grinned. “You earned a bonus for the troll. We cross the stream and head due west to another stream. I was told there used to be an old tower, we will link up there.”
I nodded and he glanced at Holly, “the cook wanted to know if she would like to help him.”
I glanced at Holly as she wolfed down the food, “Not yet.”
He nodded and stood before walking to another scout. After eating I let her take the plates back and cleaned up. I had several new arrows and added them to my quiver. Holly walked back and I stripped to my breaches. I had her keep her shirt as I began to show her how to stretch. I ignored the elves and the few scouts that suddenly joined us, including Trevor.
Holly was nervous but followed and did what I did. After stretching I began my exercises only slower then normal. I smiled when Holly relaxed and seemed to slip into the smooth flow echoing my movements. Slowly my dance quickened but she continued to follow and echo what I did. What I stopped and began stretching she grinned almost to herself.
It was dark when I grabbed a rag and led her to the river. I stripped and pulled her shirt off as she trembled. I pulled her into the cool water and started washing the sweat off, a moment later she copied me. She slept soundly beside me but had an angel’s smile on her face. I woke to the tap against my tent and nudged Holly, “time to wake.”
She shifted and sat up as I slipped out and dressed. After she was dressed I helped her pack up the tent and all her new belongings. After we saddled the horse I led her to the cook. It was still dark as we ate and I quietly told her what to do. I slipped across the stream in the dark with several other scouts. As they drifted into the darkness I headed west.
There were a lot of signs of others moving through the area so I moved slower. When I reached the other stream there were dark elves all around. I silently moved through them to the tower and the war camp around it. There was easily a hundred elves here, I slipped back and away. I moved swiftly back towards the column and stopped when I was about halfway.
I glanced around and nocked an arrow at the slight sounds moving towards me. The three dark elves were trotting when I saw them. I took one through the chest and nocked a second arrow. I released the string as the other two rushed me and killed another before tossing my bow into a bush. I pulled my knives and slid to the side at the last moment.
The rushing elf tried to slash me but I was on the wrong side of his body. He spun as I moved in and slashed with one knife and pulled it back as he reacted. I stabbed at his blocking knife and took it behind the wrist before twisting my hand down with the blade up. He screamed and tried to strike with a second knife as I sild in. I reached over his arm and cut his throat before slipping back.
As he went to his knees I moved back and glanced around. I waited and then stripped him of his bow and knives before doing the same to the other two. I started moving when I finished and at noon I found the column. I nodded to one of the other scouts before telling Trevor what I had found. He gestured to bring up the three commanders and I knelt to draw a map of the tower and the elves camped there.
The elves spread out and moved forward as we started moving again. I gave Holly the bows and knives to put on the horse before slipping ahead to keep scouting and waited when I came to the dark elf camp. I slipped into camp silently and made my way to the tower. I entered the old deserted tower and climbed the stone stairs. I came out on top and knelt before glancing between crenels. I knew our small army was close when two elves ran into camp and straight to the leaders tent.
I had to give the army time to spread out and attack. I lifted my bow and took one of the two elves when they slowed to a walk. As the camp froze I killed the other one and then I began shooting into the elves as they yelled and rushed the tower. I heard them when they entered the tower but continued to shoot until the last second. I set my bow aside and pulled my knifes as I moved to the stairs.
The timing was perfect, the whole camp was attacking me in the tower when the rangers and the duke’s army attacked with elves raining arrows ahead of them. The ones in the tower stopped before spinning and rushing back down the stairs. I went back to using my bow until I ran out. I slipped it over my shoulder and walked down the stairs and out into the fight that was mostly over.
I went straight to the dark elven leader’s tent and the two horses. I saddled them and started collecting clothing and other items he had. I went to retrieve the heads from the arrows I had used and scattered through the camp was several more bows. I collected them as well as any of the silvery knives, I even found several elven swords.
I had two full packs on the horses when I found Holly with the cook. She glanced at the new horses and smiled, “we heard the fighting. Cook said not to worry because you were the best.”
I glanced at the cook and he grinned. I nodded and turned, “these are ours now, put them with the others.”
She nodded and led the horses back along the line of pack horses. I glanced at the cook, “where are we setting up camp?”
He nodded upstream, “Trevor said to find a place away from the battlefield.”
I started leading him and the pack train around the celebrating men. We set up camp between the stream and another smaller one that came out of the forest to the north. Holly had collected a lot of straight branches and set up my lathe as soon as the tent was up. Trevor walked towards me with a huge grin, “nice work Hunter.”
I nodded and he squatted down across from me, “we had word from the other columns on each side of us. They have been running into a lot more Orcs and goblins.”
I glanced at him, “these dark ones came from the west.”
He nodded, “I saw the trail they left. I want you to scout their trail tomorrow. There is a spring to the west with white boulders ringing it. The whole army plans to meet there before splitting up again.”
I nodded again, “I will drop marker stones and kill any watchers.”
He grinned, “save a few for us?”
I smiled and turned back to putting more arrows together. A little later I went through all the bows and pulled out one with a lighter pull. I measured Holly’s pull and cut a few arrows and had her start practicing. Our exercise that evening was with several of the scouts and rangers. I had to take Holly away from the camp to let her wash before calling it a night.
She snuggled against me and caressed my chest as I lay back, “thank you Hunter.”
I glanced at her, “for what?”
She shifted and seemed to smile, “for being you.”
I caressed her shoulder, “sleep, tomorrow might be a long day.”
I woke to the touch on my tent and shook Holly before moving out of the tent. An elf squatted and grinned, “a large party of orcs come this way.”
I nodded, “how long?”
He tilted his head, “maybe a half mark.”
I nodded and turned to pull out my clothes. I dressed and looked at Holly as she dressed, “remember the exercises. Go to the horses and stay with them.”
She nodded and walked across towards the picket line as men began to gather. I left my bow and quiver as I walked into the night. The orcs yelled and screamed as they attacked from the northwest. I was beyond the camp and moved into them as they rushed the camp and elves and other scouts suddenly appeared to attack with me.
It was chaos as I slipped into them and sliced throats or ripped across stomachs. The huge semi armored troll that suddenly appeared had the others falling back. I did not and slid under a swinging club and around behind it. I leaped and grabbed a shoulder as I stabbed the blade in my other hand straight through the ear and into its brain.
I dropped and rolled before pulling my other knife and cutting an orc’s throat. The troll was down convulsing as I moved towards it and yanked my knife out of his head. The orcs were suddenly running away so I walked calmly towards camp. Two elves appeared and Silver grinned, “you still have the touch Hunter.”
I shrugged as I continued to walk, “I did not see the dark elf that was directing them.”
He grinned, “we did.”
I smiled and glanced back, “see you tomorrow.”
I found Holly by the picket line with the cook and a dozen dead orcs. The cook grinned, “our girl sure learns quickly.”
I smiled and pulled her away and to the deeper stream. I undressed and she hesitated before doing the same. I walked into the water and started washing and she joined me. After we walked out she smiled, “I was very afraid Hunter.”
I nodded, “but you did not run or freeze up.”
I carried our clothes to the tent and she sighed as I pulled out a rag and handed it to her, “you did very good.”
She smiled, “Cook said I am a demon.”
I laughed and dried myself before relaxing beside the tent, “tomorrow I want you to practice with the bow while you walk.”
She nodded and leaned against me, “when will you take me?”
I glanced at her, “You must be the one to ask and take me.”
Holly looked at me before smiling as she turned to crawl into the tent, “Come into the tent?”
When I helped Holly pack up she had a soft smile on her face. I slipped across the stream as the sun began to rise. I moved carefully as I read the many signs of passing foul ones. Every few minutes I dropped a marker stone so Trevor could follow easily. It was a few hours before I hesitated and tilted my head to listen. I silently moved into some tall brush and a minute later two dark elves appeared.
They glanced around before starting to walk again. My first arrow took the leader in the chest and the second took the other as he turned and ran. I moved to them and made sure they were dead before pulling their bodies into the bushes. I took their bows and knives before moving on. Barely a half hour later I paused behind a tree. I waited for several minutes before the elf appeared and stalked towards me.
When he moved around the tree I was above him. He glanced around and then up just as I dropped. My knife went into his throat and I ripped it out as I rolled away. I stripped him and pulled his twitching body into some bushes before continuing. Five times I killed dark elves before I reached the spring. The ring of white stones had been moved and a large domed building stood beside it.
Around the spring was a huge camp of dark elves. I quietly moved away and headed back down my trail. It was a couple of hours before I met up with the elves leading the rangers. The other parts of the army had joined us so the columns were wide. I squatted with Trevor and the other commanders and drew a map of the spring and the dark elven camp.
Several of the other scouts listened as Holly slipped up to take the bows and knives I had collected. We spread out with the scouts leading and moved towards the spring. It was a couple of hours before sunset when the army charged into the camp. The scouts headed straight for the dome building, the rest of the army swept through the camp. I used my bow as I slipped past dark elves and slowed only to kill or dodge.
I was the first through the wide door and hesitated at the angry roar of trolls. They were in a tall enclosure but still held clubs and I tossed my bow and quiver against the dome wall. I shook my head and gestured the others to each side before running towards a thick tree trunk that was one of the posts. I climbed the post and the trolls were still roaring.
Some were following along the sides of the enclosure as men fought with the few dark elves. I pulled both knives and leaped onto the back and shoulders of one troll. I brought a knife around through its ear before yanking it out and dropping. I rolled away from a club before coming to my feet and leaping. I stepped on a trolls arm as it swept its club sideways and stabbed through its eye.
I flipped backward as I yanked the knife free. I landed in a crouch and dove aside as a troll lumbered towards me and turned to take a couple of steps to slice across its ankle and cut the tendon. I rolled backwards and came to my feet to leap in and up to the chest of a troll as I brought a knife stabbing through its eye. I dropped and spun as it fell back.
I took a couple of running steps before leaping onto a troll’s back that was reaching through the enclosure fence. I stabbed through its ear and dropped as it stiffened. I killed twelve trolls before I walked towards the enclosure fence and climbed out. The few scouts still in the building grinned as I climbed out. I glanced back towards the center where a troll lay on a thick wooden door in the ground.
I dropped down outside and picked up my bow and quiver. I walked out and glanced around realizing my fight had not really taken that long. A full battle still rage and I glanced through men and elves to see a small group of dark elves. One was shouting orders and waving a silver sword and the others were protecting him. I fitted an arrow and pulled the string back to aim before releasing just as the elf’s eyes locked with mine.
My arrow slammed into his throat and he fell back as I pulled another arrow. One right after another I killed the dark elves. When I was completely out of arrow I headed towards where the leader had fallen. The dark elven army was trying to run but men and elves pressed them. When I reached the elf I glanced around and knelt. I looked at him carefully as I remembered certain tales.
I took a fancy ring from his right hand, a ruby pendant from his neck, twin bracers with thin blood daggers, diamond studded silver fighting knives and the silver gem encrusted sword. I moved around and collected knives and bows from his guards. I shook my head at the dead slaves when I went into the tent that was like mine but much larger.
I stripped it and dropped the tent before folding it up. The army had turned from fighting and let the dark elves run. I went to the rope corral and caught the twelve horses. I saddled them and began putting everything on the horses. I started towards where our supply trains were supposed to be and along the way picked up a few bows and knives.
I found the cook with Holly beside him and handed her the lead rope, “these are ours.”
She nodded as I turned to look before heading towards Trevor who was speaking to several scouts. I touched his shoulder, “you need to come with me and we will need several men.”
He looked at me and then around the huge camp, “now?”
I nodded, “I need help moving a dead troll.”
He grinned, “that was something the army will talk about for years.”
I glanced at the other scouts, “there was a door in the ground.”
They grinned as we turned to walk towards the dome. We cut the leather holding the cross pieces on the enclosure before walking into the stinking pen. I grabbed the troll’s foot as Trevor took the other. We pulled and the others came to help pull the huge beast back and off the door. There was a thick metal ring in the door and I gestured to one of the scouts, “use a cross piece and do not stand to close.”
It was a good thing I warned them. The men slid the pole through the ring and squatted before lifting and throwing the door back. There was hissing as several vipers slithered out and men backed away. I moved carefully and used another pole to pin a head before bending and slicing it off. The others laughed and began a game to see who killed the most.
Inside the hole the door had covered was a large chest. After all the vipers were killed we used two poles to pry it up and then lift it. It took four men to lift it completely out of the hole. Trevor moved around it carefully before opening it. We stared at the chest filled with gold coins before looking at each other. Trevor grinned and closed the lid, “right, get this back to our area and we will do a company split tonight.”
I helped carry the chest and called to an elf walking from the supply trains, “tell Silver, Hunter Silvan needs words!”
The elf glanced at me as he walked passed and smiled as he nodded. We set the heavy chest down by the supply wagon. The men glanced at each other but I headed towards Holly, “I will watch it if you bring something back for Holly.”
They laughed and spun to walk back towards the destroyed camp. Holly had our tent up with all the horses on a picket line behind the tent. She even had the lathe set up in front with everything from the horses lined up on the other side. She stopped me with a frown and started stripping me and setting my weapons aside. She finally pointed to the lathe, “sit.”
I smiled and did as she told me. She grabbed my collapsible bucket and walked towards small creek that was not far. When she returned she knelt and picked up a rag and began to wash me, “no river or stream here.”
I nodded and let her clean the thick troll blood off me. I glanced up as Silver strode towards me and turned to the things I had been carrying. I gestured in front of me as he grinned at Holly. He knelt, “you wished to speak to me?”
I set the twin bracers on the ground between us with the hilts of the blood daggers towards him. Next I set the two diamond studded silver fighting knives beside the bracers, with the hilts also towards him. The silver gem encrusted sword went between the bracers. The ruby pendant went on the sword scabbard and the ring I set on the hilt.
Silver sucked in a breath and finally looked into my face before bending to pick up everything I had put between us. He stood and walked away without speaking. Holly was quiet as she washed me and finally sat back. She pulled out a soft white shirt and a pair of pants with some soft moccasins. She must have altered them from some of the clothing found in the last dark elven camp.
After dressing and putting my weapons on I sat and we started going through everything I had brought back. I kept an eye on the chest by the supply wagon until Trevor returned with some of the men. He had them help move it before setting up his tent. The men dropped blankets and clothing off for Holly who smiled at them. One of the things I found in a pack was another lathe much like mine.
There had also been bear skins lining the larger tent’s floor. I found a small red pouch with six large blood rubies inside as well as two heavy leather purses filled with silver. In a long silken case was also a long bow made of blonde iron wood. Holly was carefully putting the larger tent up to air it out and clean it when I looked towards the destroyed camp where men were pulling all the bodies into a huge pile.
All the elves were together and coming towards us. I straightened as I saw the elf leading them and stood, “Holly.”
She looked at me and then at the elves walking towards us. She started to tremble but I smiled, “it is not bad. In my large pack is a small pocket against the pack frame. In the pocket is a small flask. Please find it and bring it to me.”
She nodded and ducked into our tent. Trevor and the other scouts stood to see what was happening as the elegant and young looking elf stopped in front of me, “Hunter Silvan. You have become a legend to many of my people.”
I smiled, “hardly a legend your highness.”
He bowed his head, “you know me.”
I glanced at Silver beside him, “I listen to the descriptions people give.”
He grinned, “well, yours has become some what taller.”
I laughed and turned as Holly came out. She hesitated and then held out the flask. I took it and looked at the elven price, “this is Holly.”
He bowed, “lovely maiden.”
Holly opened her mouth before looking down. I turned and opened the flask before taking a sip and holding it out. The prince smiled as several elves stirred and took the flask. He took a sip and looked at the flask when he was done, “unexpected but very nice.”
I took the flask and gave it to Holly, “take a sip.”
She looked at me quickly and then at the elves before slowly taking a sip. She blinked and smiled almost shyly as I turned back to the prince, “how may I be of service?”
He turned and gestured to the items I had given Silver, “did you kill the elf that carried these?”
I looked into his eyes, “I put an arrow through your cousin’s throat.”
He nodded and sighed before kneeling and pulling one of the dark emerald hilted fighting knives at his waist. He looked at me as he put it on his palm and held it out. I glanced at all the elves as they waited and finally pulled the fighting knife on my chest. I looked at the prince as I slowly unwrapped the leather hiding the dark blue sapphire hilt and then knelt.
I put the knife on my palm and held my hand beside the princes. He smiled, “your family still carries the sky knives my father gave them.”
I nodded and he reached to take the knife off my palm as I took the one on his. I flipped it around my hand and spun it before smiling and sliding it into the sheath on my chest. He grinned and copied what I had done before nodding, “they could be twins.”
I stood and glanced at the case with the blonde iron wood bow, “they say you are very good with a bow. Care for a challenge?”
He grinned and gestured to himself, “I am lacking my bow.”
I bent and picked up the case with the blond iron wood bow, “you could use your cousin’s, he has no need of it anymore.”
He laughed and took the case as I turned to pick up my bow and a few arrows. He turned and gestured to the distant dome as his people made a wide lane, “see the beam on the right side of the entrance?”
I nodded, “the knot half way up?”
He grinned, “perfect.”
I handed him three of my slim arrows and he looked and felt them, “A shame, you crafted them beautifully.”
I waited as he put them point down in the earth and pulled out the bow and unwound the string before bending the bow and fitting the string. He smiled as he caressed the bow and pulled an arrow out of the ground. The dome was over a hundred and fifty paces away but the arrow slammed into the center of the knot. The prince looked at me and tilted his head.
I grinned and pulled back the string and aimed before loosing the arrow. It slammed into the knot beside the other arrow touching it. I sighed and nodded before looking at the prince as he frowned and all the elves laughed. He grinned and bowed to me, “I should have known a Silvan would be able to shoot.”
I started to bow and saw the dark elf beside the dome. I knew every male would be here but the one I saw held a bow and lifted it to aim towards us. It was pure reflex to fit arrow, pull, aim and fire. The elf fell back and his arrow sped away into the sky. All the elves spun around and several rushed towards the elf. I looked at the prince, “I think we should try this some other time.”
He nodded as he watched the elves reach the one I had shot. They looked towards us and shook their heads and the prince sighed, “again we are in your debt.”
He glanced around, “and even though I would rather continue this attack, there have been many wounded or killed. We will return home and hope the damage has taught our cousins a lesson.”
I thought about the blood rubies and turned to pick up the pouch, “what do you think of these?”
I poured them into my hand and he sucked in a breath, “it answers many questions.”
He glanced at those around him, “our dark cousin are spilt into six clans. Each clan leader wears a blood pendant. If my cousin has these it was to form more clans.”
I glanced at the others as they nodded and put the rubies away and picked up the bag of knives his cousin’s guards carried. I spilled it out and several elves gasped. I looked at the prince and he smiled, “you did better than we could hope for, these are the knives of the clan leaders eldest sons.”
He looked into my face, “there will be much blood shed as their sibs fight for their positions.”
I turned to look out into the destroyed camp, “now would be a good time to pay your uncle a visit.”
The prince stiffened as several elves hissed. I looked at him and he smiled slowly before looking around, “who would go with a Silvan to visit our cousins?”
Many murmured and raised hands and he smiled as I looked at Holly. She slowly straightened, “I would go with you.”
The elves quieted as I kept looking at her, “if they catch you, they will kill you slowly.”
She nodded as she gripped the hilt of one of her knives, “I know, but I will not leave you.”
I sighed and then smiled, “very well, go find Trevor. We will need to see if he will keep our horses and...”
The prince cleared his throat, “pardon, you will take our half sister with you?”
I nodded and he smiled at her, “than we will bring your belongings with us and you can pick them up when you return.”
He glanced at Holly before looking at me again, “If you get a chance to bring any of my female cousin home...”
He was silent as the other elves stirred. I looked at Holly before nodding, “I will see what I can do.”
After the prince left a couple of dozen elves remained including Silver. I grinned, “first light tomorrow.”
Silver nodded and all the elves walked away. I gestured to the larger tent, “finish that and we will pack everything else up.”
Holly nodded and went back to work and I finished sorting everything before packing it up. It was past midnight when Trevor scratched the side of my tent. I slipped away from Holly as she sat up and crawled out. He smiled and gestured to three large heavy looking bags, “your share.”
I nodded and he sighed, “you are leaving to go after the dark elves.”
I nodded again and Trevor looked into my face, “they are not all bad.”
I smiled, “this I know. Like all people there are those that are evil and greedy. That is how the split between the elves began. Most of the dark ones know this in their hearts but to turn away takes great courage.”
I glanced around at the quiet camp around us, “if I manage to kill the dark king and the other clan leaders many of the others may take heart and return.”
He nodded and slapped my shoulder, “I hope to see you again one day Silvan.”
He walked away and I turned to set the three bags inside the tent. I was up before the false dawn and packed everything onto our horses with Holly helping me. Beside her two knives she had a full quiver of elven made arrows and carried a bow she felt comfortable with. Three eleven maids came with Silver and the warriors. One touched my hand, “we will care for your animals and belongings.”
I nodded and let her lead the horses off. I glanced at all the scouts that were up and watching and nodded as they saluted me. I took a breath and looked at Holly, “Stay three steps behind me and watch around us and what I do.”
She nodded and I looked at Silver before heading west through the destroyed camp and then into the forest. The tales and stories of the place the elves had split were well known. I knew dark elves would make a point of creating their seat of power there. I glanced back a few times to see all the elves following me single file. They were silent as we walked through the forest.
We collected berries and nuts as we walked and that night split up and huddled together in small groups. It rained the third day and we killed rabbits and made a fire under a tree. It was another week before I froze in mid step. I watched a dark elf stretch as he walked past in front of us. Once he was gone I moved us back and glanced at all the elves, “scout but do not kill. Leave your bows so you will not be tempted. We need a way in and out. We also need to know where all the horses are kept and where each clan leader stays.”
I looked at Silver, “take two and go around to the far west side.”
He nodded and I looked at an elf called Quick Bow, “take two and go to the north edge.”
He smiled and gave me a half bow like most of them had started doing. I looked at an elf that was shorter than the others, “you take two and go to the south edge.”
I looked around, “the rest of you spread out and scout this edge. Look for hidden sentry posts as well as any possible orc or goblin den.”
They grinned and turned to strip off packs and bows. I set mine beside Holly’s and was tempted to tell her to stay. She had kept up the whole time and actually moved as well as any of the elves. She stayed behind me as I silently stalked closer and into the elven city. I was a little surprised they did not even have walls but elves rarely did that.
Dozens of wide streams wove through the city with carven bridges and the tents I saw were almost permanent in nature. I moved slowly and carefully and picked out pennants and banners by the tents. I knelt in a flowering bush to watch a huge tent with a red banner.
A golden crown was embroidered on the banner. I watched a couple of elven women and several slaves before moving around to see the horses behind the tent. I also saw a large tent beside the dark king’s which Holly whispered was the tent for unattached female elves.
We slipped back out of the city unseen and back to the place we had left our packs and bows. It was a long time before everyone was back. One by one we told everyone what we had seen. I pointed out three for each team and assigned them a clan leaders tent. The rest I sent to several of the larger tents. Our plan was simple,